We were so excited by the DIY Airwood drone kit that we bought one before we even thought of reviewing it. Here is what we think.
The word drone is somewhat generic, and really just means unmanned aircraft. It was originally applied to flying machines to describe the earlier generations of pilotless aerial vehicles, the sort used for missile testing following World War II. The word came to be associated with unmanned aerial vehicles thanks to the United States of America’s combat unmanned aerial vehicle programs, and their use from the early 2000s in the Middle Eastern Area of Operations.
Thankfully, the word no longer carries these connotations for many of us. With the concept of any remote controlled aerial vehicle being called a drone, that was the word that stuck when what are accurately termed ‘quadcopters’ became popular as a radio controlled hobby. They are unmanned, are controlled from the ground, some can be operated beyond sight range, and often performs tasks for us, such as aerial photography. Little wonder the ‘drone’ name stuck. While unmanned, remote controlled rotary wing aircraft in the consumer category come with up to ten rotors, the Airwood DIY Drone kit is most definitely in the ‘quad’ category.
The kit consists of four different quadcopter models, plus a controller housing. All are laser-cut from sheets of thin, lightweight plywood.
The controller houses a clean, well-constructed circuit board with two joysticks for in-flight control, plus some slide and DIP switches for preflight settings.
The controller also mounts a phone holder, which is adjustable and made entirely of plywood. For some reason, parts are included to turn the phone holder into an ornamental robot if you are not using it to hold a phone.
The four drone frames that can be made all have their own independent wooden parts, so each of the different configurations can stay assembled. Into any one of these mounts the same core set of electronic parts. The central controller connects to all four motors, the battery, and a small, downward-looking camera. This camera is not for the pilot’s view, but for feedback to the drone’s control unit. Visual information is used to determine horizontal level, and maintain the drone in that position.
There are three drone batteries and one controller battery included, along with a USB charger.
The drone batteries are 3.7V 850mAh, while the controller battery is 3.7V 250mAh. In addition to the batteries, there are two other electronic items in the box. One is a camera, which mounts to the top of the drone’s control unit and is used as an FPV camera. This is where the phone holder on the controller comes into play. The second electronic mdule has no documentation or labels, nor does it have a dedicated place in the plastic parts tray like the control unit and camera do. It does have the same mounting header pins as the camera, and has a USB Mini B port in one side. It has a grille that covers one surface, and when plugged in, turned out to be an LED display. The USB port is assumed to be for programming, but responsiveness was minimal when plugged into a PC, and the Airwood website was no help for apps or the like.
Electronically, the drone control unit utilises adaptive Artificial Intelligence to track the flight of the unit and change characteristics and responses. In this way, flying the same electronics in any of the four supplied frames is supposed to be easy. In addition, the manufacturers suggest that, in fact, users can make their own frames as well. The system also adapts to environmental factors such as air density, which affect flying characteristics.
Assembling the drone airframes and controller frame all take some care and attention to detail. Some parts are directional, and can easily be installed upside down, for example.
This may not become apparent until later in the build when other parts suddenly do not fit where they should. The phone holder was particularly problematic, but as assembled with only one retracing of steps.
It should be noted that the numbering of the steps repeats, with the sequence appearing as 5, 6, 7, 6, 7, 8, and on.
The operating system requires that the controller be unlocked before use. This is done by pushing the left joystick up, holding for one second, then pulling down all the way. After this, the joystick is released to centre, and the motor should start. However, if no control is input after three seconds, the controller automatically locks again. So, begin flying as soon as you have unlocked the controller.
The drone itself has a beginner mode, set by the DIP switches. For a non-flier, this was most helpful. Beginner mode limits the speed, throttle, and sensitivity of the controls. This done, it was time to attach the camera. Before doing so, you need to scan the QR code in the camera’s manual to download the app. No other download information or app name is provided. At first glance, it could mount either forwards or backwards. While it is unlikely that you would want a backwards-facing camera in the air, close inspection of the base of the camera reveals two small notches, which fit over the triangular direction indicator on the control unit. So far so good.
However, installation of the camera took place while the app was downloading. We then discovered that the app is entirely in an Asian language which we could not determine. While there may be an option to change language in the app, we couldn’t find one. Instead, we contacted the manufacturer, who advised that the QR code was linked to an old app. They suggested we look through the app store for two specific apps, being unable to determine exactly which drone kit we had. As things turned out, XDJ UFO was the name of the app that worked. It connected to the camera and also allows some control of the drone. Control response was delayed, however, and the hand controller was the preferred means of piloting. Of course, this won’t be a challenge because the controller has a phone holder built in anyway.
The only issue we had with the camera was that it is a bit inconsistent. Sometimes the feed is smooth and continuous, while at other times it drops to an apparent frame rate of one per second for short periods. The manufacturer is clearly developing and updating the product, so hopefully the app improves too.
Even without the camera, however, the Airwood drone is intuitive, easy to fly, and seems to adapt well to different environments. Battery life was adequate and within the usual expectations of this type of device, however, three batteries are supplied. Being a USB charger, you could easily have one charging on a battery bank while you’re flying. The batteries as they are last around seven minutes on average.
The manual states that it is best to learn to use the drone in beginner mode indoors, and implies that the drone can be used outdoors. It does not state so explicitly, and we didn’t try it outside. However, it did negotiate a three-story stairwell quite happily, and flew in the door at the top. The camera would have been useful here (the manufacturer had likely not even received our email yet at this early point), but the whole flying experience is still up to standard without the camera. Some quirks were also noted when the controller seemed to stop communicating with the drone momentarily, but this is hard to determine in the swamp of radio and EMI signals present in the office. We had also played with it so much we may have run down the controller battery.
One thing that is certain, is that the AI can sometimes lose its mind. Occasionally, usually after connecting a new battery, the drone seems to think ‘horizontal’ is actually a few degrees away from level. When it does so, the drone wants to move quite fast in a given direction, which varies depending on the incident, even when idling. Thankfully, there is a procedure in the manual for recalibrating flight trim, and it works quite well. It is also a very fast procedure, and performing it every time you connect a different battery would not be an inconvenience.
All in all, we were very happy with the Airwood 4-in-1 drone kit, and we’re keen to continue putting it through its paces when we should be working instead!
Airwood drone kits available from Core Electronics:
- Airwood Cubee Drone Kit CE06614 $129.95
- Airwood 4 In 1 Drone Kit CE06615 $169.95
- Airwood Cubee Drone Camera Kit CE06616 $169.95
- Airwood Cubee Drone Program Kit CE06617 $169.95
- Airwood 4 in 1 Drone Kit with Camera and Program (Reviewed) CE06618 $229.95
Accessories also available.
Also available from Pakronics: